National Editor Tom Karst The Packer's coverage of the recent foodborne illness linked to southwest Indiana cantaloupe had some interesting follow-on comments from the trade. Check the CDC for the latest on the outbreak.
The reader comment that caught my eye was one submitted by "vendor" from Los Angeles:
come on retailers... your Vice Presidents tell us we have to be Primus, Harvestmark, PTI, etc etc etc to be a vendor... We spend the money and do it right... but when the market is in an oversupply situation and some broker offers you $1 off a case, buyers ditch us for more margin over food safety... if your VPs are going to talk the talk, buyers need to walk the walk... This should not be happening...
Another, from "Anon," said this:
I agree... in addition, I think it's noteworthy that a lot of retailers completely lose the ability to trace product once it hits their warehouse and goes out to stores. Regardless of whether or not a vendor can trace to the pallet or to the case, or what stickers w/ info are used on the fruit, if the retailers don't do their part as well as growers, we're not doing our best as an industry to be able to act in these circumstances.
Leaping to a particular conclusion, the comments are presupposing that the farm where the tainted melons came from did not meet the same food safety standards that other farms did. The comments also assume that the buyers chose these melons over others because of price, and in the process gave short shrift to food safety considerations.
Based on the incomplete knowledge we have about the particulars of this case, it is unfair to make those assumptions. Still, the comments play on a stereotype that is no doubt grounded in some experience.
Do retail "vice presidents" have a differing view of the importance of food safety audits than do buyers? Is it possible for buyers to treat all suppliers the same when it comes to food safety expectations? What do readers think? Is there a disconnect between chain store brass and their buyers when it comes to food safety expectations relative to market price?